Office YogaBy Tisha Larsen

There are many benefits yoga can bring when incorporated into corporate wellness programs. Many companies are using wellness programs to improve the health of their employees. Successful, balanced programs can be very cost effective by lowering health care costs of employees, decreasing worker’s compensation claims, reducing absenteeism, and increasing productivity. It has been estimated that for every $1 spent on wellness a company saves $3 in costs. Yoga doesn’t treat just one thing (such as a flu shot clinic) but treats the body as a whole. When added to a wellness program, Yoga has the ability to benefit the employee by decreasing stress, insomnia, depression, back pain, and cardiac disease. Other benefits include improved workplace satisfaction, physical fitness, and flexibility. It also encourages spirituality without reference to religion and can be utilized by a variety of people. It can strengthen the immune system and aide in removal of toxic waste from the body. Yoga also improves mental concentration and focus producing quicker response times and clarity while completing tasks.

The National Institute of Mental Health estimates that US employers lose about $70 billion a year because of absenteeism, lost productivity, and disability caused by mental distress. Studies show that 40% of staff turnover is due to stress. Many people view their jobs as the number one stressor in their lives. High demands of time and energy, along with pressure to meet specific goals, causes stress. Yoga decreases stress hormone levels and balances the autonomic nervous system which is responsible for regulating functions such as heart rate, digestion, respiratory rate, urination, and sexual arousal. Specific postures can reduce stress headaches and eye pain by by releasing the stress from the sensory organs. It allows the mind to rest and clear away negative thoughts. Yoga strengthens the nervous system and creates a peaceful state of mind. Regulation and control of the breath assists in steadying the mind. According to The Complete Yoga Book by James Hewitt, the aim of yoga is to produce tranquility which in turn draws employees’ focus away from a stressful day and provide relief.

Difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, or waking early is known as insomnia. There are several causes including stress, diet, and hormone changes. Yoga balances the body’s systems and promotes sleep. Specific poses help decrease insomnia depending on the cause. Studies have shown that people with chronic insomnia have had increased total sleep times with daily yoga sessions.

Depression affects 121 million people worldwide. A study done at New Hampshire Psychiatric Hospital in 2005 in which patients attended yoga classes showed lower levels of their tension, anxiety, depression, and fatigue than before beginning the class. Depression weakens the immune system by exhausting the body’s stress hormone supply. People suffering from depression have lower levels of the neurotransmitters responsible for positive emotions and pain tolerance. Yoga increases the release and re-uptake of these neurotransmitters in the brain. It also promotes the release of natural adrenaline. Yoga can help find inner calm and access the power of the inner self.

Physically demanding, repetitious, or sedentary jobs can cause back pain. Frequently the cause of back pain is loss of flexibility, weak back or abdominal muscles, tight hamstrings, and/or sciatic nerve irritation. Yoga sharpens proprioception, which is the unconscious perception of movement and spatial awareness of the body. A qualified instructor will be able to assist with postures that should be avoided or eased into for those who have had back pain or injuries. People who have had back injuries should check with their doctor before starting a Yoga program.

Heart health can be improved by yoga. It can improve blood vessel function therefore lowering blood pressure. Blood pressure is stabilized when the sense organs, brain, and sympathetic nervous system is relaxed. It works directly on the hypothalamus which is the control area for the endocrine system. Yoga decreases atherosclerosis which is the hardening of the arteries because of plaque. It maintains the elasticity of the arteries and clears out the plaque by increasing circulation and providing an even blood supply to all parts and organs in the body. Many cardiologists recommend yoga for their cardiac patients.

Yoga can improve workplace satisfaction in many ways. By attending classes together employees become engaged with each other in a relaxing environment. It is a positive activity that isn’t work related. It offers a bonding experience and forms a sense of community. The ability to remain calm under stressful situations will come more naturally. Overall, yoga boosts morale and the end result is teamwork and ultimately job satisfaction.

Many employers have a policy in place in which one’s religious beliefs may not be imposed on others in the workplace while others include religion in their mission statement. Those who practice yoga are not worshiping a specific God. It is a way to learn to not be guided by the self-conscious but move past that and realize and use the universal consciousness, which is where man truly understands his real-self or God-self. The ultimate goal of yoga is to acquire truth with the individual soul by identifying with the supreme soul or God. This is not fully achievable simply with corporately offered yoga classes, but it is a good start. Patanjali, Yoga Aphorisms, explains yoga as “a supreme suspension of the modifications of the thinking principle which is obtainable through different methods such as controlling the vital breath and steady pose, both of which are intimately connected with the mind”. Yoga does not claim to have all the answers to your problems but offers a way to work through them. The philosophy of yoga doesn’t argue or agree with any specific religion or faith, therefore, anyone who is looking for the truth within themselves can participate.

A main reason that would draw employees to practice yoga, when they otherwise may not be aware of the many benefits, would be for improved physical fitness. Modern culture has driven us to gain slender physiques and increase our muscle mass by performing violent muscle exercises. This would include cardiovascular workouts where the goal is to increase circulation by getting the heart rate at an extremely high level. Increased circulation can be achieved with specific movements of the body along with deep controlled breathing. Performing asanas, also known as postures, break up the fat and tone the body. Pranayama is the Yogic science of breath control. Through pranayama we can activate the physiological and psychic powers of prana (cosmic energy) that is stored in our body. Pranayama improves metabolism. A balanced asana regimen will work on all nerves, glands, and organs in the body.

As our bodies grow older, we lose flexibility of the spine and joints due to shortening of the ligaments. This is recognized as stiffness in the neck and shoulders for people who sit much of the time, as in office work or other sedentary jobs. This can also cause headaches because shortening of the ligaments at the base of the skull irritates the nerves that run through that area to the face and head. Yoga gently stretches and returns suppleness to these ligaments.

The benefits of yoga can be enjoyed by anyone. It appeals to a variety of fitness levels. It can be done as an organized class or taught to be done individually while sitting at a desk. It is not competitive; one only challenges him or herself. It is an activity that can improve physical fitness without perspiring or becoming fatigued, therefore can be attended before or during a workday. Most asanas are more relaxing than exerting. There are no age requirements; people of all ages can participate. Yoga promotes self-confidence. It is a way to grow spiritually without imposing a specific religion as explained previously. There are no special clothing or equipment requirements.

There are several tips to successfully integrate yoga into a corporate wellness program. The class should be low cost or free. It should be offered more than one time for maximum benefits. Employers should survey potential attendees to see what times work best for their employees. A qualified instructor is a must. On-site classes would allow for increased attendance. Specific tips for the classes include encouraging students to come with an empty bowel and bladder and wear loose clothing. It should take place in a well ventilated, size appropriate, and temperature appropriate area. Bringing a blanket, towel, or mat is encouraged. Reminding students that every person’s body is different may help ward off injuries or soreness brought on by ignoring the body’s signals.

In conclusion, yoga generates an overall feeling of well-being. Not only does is increase muscle strength but improves mental health and makes a healthier happier employee.

© Copyright 2011 – Tisha Larsen

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